As news of Dragon Age 2 has trickled out over the last six months or so I have not been completely at ease with it. With the sequel to a game I adored (some would say obsessed over) changing many of its aspects there were all sorts of warning flags being waved in various corners of my subconscious.
Not only does your character change from being an anonymous, unspeaking Grey Warden to an analogue of Mass Effect’s Commander Shephard, the game’s art style gets a complete reworking and combat has been ‘tweaked’. That last affecting PC gamers more than those playing on their consoles.
Having now run through the Dragon Age 2 demo that has been released this week a couple of times, once on PS3 and PC, I thought it might be an idea to share my opinions on those changes for those of you who might not get the chance to try the demo before the games release.
The first of my concerns, your character being less of your own creation and more the star of BioWare’s story, turns out to be a complete non-issue. Perhaps due to the long hours I’ve spent with Mass Effect lately it just feels right and grounds you firmly in the centre of the story.
Sure, I’m going to miss playing through the origins stories and seeing how they send ripples through the main story and colour later interactions with other characters but if any developer knows how to weave an involving story it’s BioWare.
For all my initial worries about the slightly cartoon-y look of those early screens I’ve really warmed to the new art style during the few hours I’ve spent with the demo though I’m not entirely sure why. The look of Dragon Age: Origins reminded me very much of Baldur’s Gate and the like whereas the sequel has a much fresher look as it sets out to carve its own graphical identity.
My one gripe about the new style is the substantial redesign of characters that appeared in the first game. One ‘transformative’ cameo from a character Dragon Age fans will know well sees them sporting a new look that is much more ‘high fantasy’ than their appearance in Origins.
Maybe the new look characters will grow on me. One thing (actually several pairs of things) that seems to have grown in the demo is the upper limit of the size of the chest adornments some of the women are sporting. I have a difficult time picturing the duellist Isabela being particularly nimble and agile in combat with the inertia her adornments would accumulate!
The graphics engine itself performs a lot better on the PS3 than it did in the previous game with the frame rate, while not constant, remains much more stable during the demo than it did in Origins. There were times when you could count the frames as they went past in DA:O which also led to the game missing controller inputs.
The engine and art style combine to produce some pretty great looking effects when spells are being thrown around. Combat animations are also much improved with some great finishing moves. Now about that combat…
Of all the changes that have been made to Dragon Age 2 it is those, both rumoured and actual, to the combat that have generated the greatest number of words on The Internet. Having played both Origins and the demo on both PS3 and PC I’m not entirely convinced by the new combat, though my concern has shifted platform.
On the PS3 I played through the demo as a rogue who favoured dual blades over the bow. The controls are pretty much identical to those in Origins which is good. The improved animations mentioned above also lend a much more fluid and varying appearance to the on-screen action.
The one thing I didn’t like, which is possibly simply down to to the fact I will have to change my play style slightly, is the way your character can now launch themselves into combat with the next wave of enemies.
In Origins your character would run over to the next wave, taking time and giving you a momentary pause without actually using the ability to pause the action. In the new system my rogue would perform a flying leap at the next wave when commanded to attack them making combat against many small waves much more incessant. I’m not sure I like that.
It’s PC gamers who have had the most worries about changes to combat, but it turns out that playing through the demo on the PC as a mage there’s only one I noticed. For all the scare stories of Dragon Age 2 being ‘dumbed-down’ on the PC it felt and played, for me, just like Origins.
As they were on the PS3, the controls seem much the same and of course being a PC game you can always remap them if you’d prefer them another way. I found myself enjoying the more tactical combat possible on the PC as much as I did in Origins, with one caveat; I wish you could still zoom out to the almost top-down, wide-angle view that you could in Origins, but I didn’t iss it as much as I thought I would.
There are other changes to the game, most seemingly imported from Mass Effect like the dialogue selection ‘wheel’ and the menu used to access your journal, character statistics and inventory (which is locked in the demo). It’s hard to call something BioWare have changed to be more like Mass Effect a criticism though.
I normally avoid any demo for an RPG but I wanted to play this one to assuage my concerns about the sequel to a game that I loved. I’m feeling a lot happier about the sequel landing on my doormat in a couple of weeks now. I’ll be even happier though if it turns out Leliana got a cameo role too…